Strayed (Les Egares) Review
Forced from their Parisien home by the German occupation of France, Odile (Beart) and her two children, 13-year-old Philippe (Leprince-Ringuet) and Cathy (Meyer) flee to the countryside. Part of a convoy of refugees, they make an easy target for German bombers, and when their car is destroyed, the family runs for its life into the surrounding fields. They meet up with Yvan, a feral youth, who, though unpredictable and a bit odd, has the survival skills they lack, and leads them to an abandoned house.
Odile is wary of Yvan initially, especially as Philippe seems to be enraptured by him. However she can’t manage without him, and especially the stolen chickens and trapped rabbits that he provides. After realising that the local towns have been evacuated, Odile settles into a routine of sorts, with the house becoming a home for this makeshift family. Odile is determined to maintain some sort of standards – they will eat at a table, using cutlery (she’s quite British in this respect) – and she tries to stop her children running wild. Recently widowed, she is clearly suffering from some kind of delayed reaction, but as a teacher, she tries to hold to her liberal beliefs, and keeps herself busy with domestic routine.
Philippe calls her on this. With his father gone, he longs to be the man of the family, the one who his mother can lean on – when Yvan appears, a cross between the father he lost and the older brother he never had, he is thrilled and unquestioningly hero-worships him, until he discovers that his idol has feet of clay. In the meantime, Odile, having discovered that Yvan can’t read, spends more time with him, and a dangerous intimacy grows between them. For a while, they live in a sort of limbic state, almost idyllic, but when some deserters arrive, looking for food and shelter, Odile is forced to make a choice.
Hurrah, hurrah – it might have subtitles but Strayed is another film bucking the trend for ever bloody longer movies by coming in at an economical 95 minutes. I’m lobbying for the return of the 85-minute feature, utterly fed up with bloated films filled with secondary characters who disappear half-way through and tonnes of dull exposition that fails to move the story forward. Long does not automatically equal epic, people! Sometimes its actually fun NOT to know a character’s mother’s maiden name. A little bit of mystery, a gradual revealing of information, and – heaven forfend! – essential knowledge, on a show don’t tell basis, feels incredibly refreshing.
Rant over. Sorry. Anyway, very happy about running time, and mysterious characters. Mainly Yvan, who is very mysterious, a little bit odd, and quite creepy. Our feelings about Yvan are mirrored by Odile’s, a simultaneous fascination and repulsion. But the hero of the piece is undoubtedly poor old Philippe, desperately trying to fill his dead father’s shoes. The performances are all superb. Emmanuelle Beart doesn’t seem to have aged a day since Manon Des Sources (gah!) and her physical daintiness contrasts perfectly with her strength of will – her need to keep herself and her family together.
The film begins with black and white archive footage of refugees fleeing Paris which blends seamlessly into the colour footage. The war, however, is just a prelude to this odd situation in which our protagonists find themselves – a world out of time, where normal rules are suspended. But contrasting with the natural, idyllic aspects are the constant tensions, whether the characters can endure them, and how they will be transformed.